Breeders & Feeders

You may be a breeder or a feeder if you live in Saline, but you absolutely must raise sheep.
The article that follows was transcribed from the Detroit News Tribune. Written by Arthur T. Hugg and published Sunday, April 10, 1910, some parts of this 100-year-old article were difficult to read because of fading. In some places along the paper's edge, words or syllables were missing. The webmaster attempted to fill in where necessary, but in one or more places, a word may be missing. 

All the Farmers in the vicinity are in Either One Branch of the Business or the Other and Live Stock Shipments Average Over Five Car Loads a Week During the Winter Season
Saline, Mich. April 9, 1910.

Michigan has never loomed very large through her sheep-growing propensities. She has been considerably behind Wyoming and New Mexico, and even Texas, but all the same, in several places she has developed the sheep raising business "par excellance" and one of these spots is Saline, on the branch of the Lake Shore Railroad in Washtenaw County.

Saline boasts 1,200 population. She has a number of trim little churches, four three storied-business blocks, three flour mills, and one square block of":.. at the intersection of her principal business streets. But the center of greatest activity is the stock yards. They are complete and full most of the time.

Cattlemen drive into Saline in their long, high-sided wagons, and line up before the sheep pens, waiting to discharge their loads. Hogs and cattle figure largely in the output, but the largest shipments are invariably sheep.

The business around this shipping point is developed along two distinct lines, each with its backers, each declared to be the best if not the only way of cleaning up the stock without the lost of time, money or sleep.

The first of these schemes is the "feeding system". This is a winter occupation mainly and is practiced by almost every farmer around Saline and usually to considerable profit, financially.

The farmer who intends to feed goes into the market in the fall and buys his stock of winter lambs at an average of $6.00 to $6.50 a lamb. These he feeds and fattens during the winter and in the spring. March or April, perhaps, he watches the stock quotations, catches a boom in mutton and ships out his stock at 1-2 or 9 cents a pound, which nets him a good clean margin above his expenses for feed.

Most of the farmers around Saline carry from 50 to100 sheep over winter and some of the flocks run as high as several hundred. And the profit in the business has given rise to the middle man who buys and sells and also cleans up a neat margin. Of these, Nathan Bordine, who has lived in Saline for 20 years, is probably a veteran in the business.

Bordine goes to Detroit or Buffalo markets in the fall and contracts for large shipments of lambs at about 6 cents. These he sells to the farmers at 6¢ and in the spring buys back the same lambs at 9, watching his chance to shove off the load in any market where the price happens to be right. Sometimes he gets 10+, sometimes even more, frequently the market breaks the other way and leaves him with his stock on hand and prices ranging 2 to 3 cents below his purchase.

"A man who can't stand hard knocks is no good to the sheep feeding business", said Bordine recently. "I've seen other fellows give up when they lost on a shipment and I've seen others pass up a good thing to wait for higher prices and then lose out altogether, but I always hang on and nearly always make a little, sooner or later.

E. A. Hauser, C. Boettner, H.G.Lindenschmidtt, Gotlieb Hertler and Joseph Gauss are among the prosperous "feeders" and it is estimated by Saline people that Saline sends out more stock than all the other towns on the (rail) line running from Ypsilanti to Hillsdale, which includes some seven cities. The shipments out of Saline alone will average 5 to 10 cars a week and sometimes run as high as 20.

Most of the shipments go to Detroit, although some few run to Buffalo. Shippers generally avoid the eastern market however, as prices fluctuate too violently there that profit and loss are equally hard to anticipate.

The other branch of the sheep industry, the "breeders" is best represented by A. A. Wood whose holdings include several farms about three miles outside Saline. Wood's sheep have attained an international reputation and sell from $25 to $500 each into California, South America and all over Europe. Where the "feeders" buy "mutton sheep" or Shropshires, known indiscriminately as "short wools", Wood and other breeders buy only Merino or "long wools" confining their efforts strictly to this clipping of fine wool and the production of pureblood stock from other farms.

Wood's sheep took 10 prizes out of 11 offered at the Seattle Exposition, and his four-year-old ram, the head of his flock, was declared the champion of the world.
Wood is assisted by his two sons Roscoe M. and A.G. Wood and employs from five to ten men. He has been in the business ever since he was a boy and inherits the knack from his father, his grandfather, and his great grandfather, all of whom were sheep raisers of note.

"Why do you succeed when others have reportedly failed?" Wood was recently asked.
"Because I have stuck to it when things looked bad and because I know a little something about crossing breeds and producing fine stock", he answered. "I've never yet seen the wool market so low, or the sheep business so bad that it wouldn't pick up after a while. It's the man who gets scared and quits who loses out."
There are very few tricks in the sheep business according to the methods employed by Wood. "A dry climate, absolute cleanliness, a fair amount of attention, and average business ability, will make sheep yield a good percentage of profit," he declares.

Wood's is one of the oldest stock farms in America. It includes 450 acres and its managers boast of having fed 700 rams at one feeding. Many other breeders around Saline have reaped moderate fortunes out of the business. Poland China hogs are also profitable and the poultry business brings the farmers surrounding the town an average of $30 thousand to $40 thousand a year. Last season, 1700 cases of poultry were shipped from Saline, the average weight being 150 pounds to the case. Pickers are paid 3 cents for a chicken, 4 for a duck and 8 for a goose and the work takes from 6 weeks to two months and a half.

Saline is a progressive little place.

Webmaster's Note: The original article, which can be seen at the depot museum, includes thirteen photographs, among them:
  • Ewes on the Wood Farm
  • A Wagonload of Sheep being Run into the Stockyard
  • A Row of Sheep Raisers Waiting at the Stockyard
  • A.A. Wood, Head of the World Famous Hickory Grove Sheep Farm near Saline.